February 28, 2012, 2:58 PM — BARCELONA -- Mobile payment technologies are spreading fast, as Google Wallet is already available on NFC-ready Android phones, and Isis Mobile Wallet is coming this summer.
Apple's coming iPhone 5 is also rumored to support NFC, or Near-Field Communication technology, which observers expect would spark greater interest by Americans in making contactless payments for retail items and transit fares.
NFC capabilities from chip makers, smartphone vendors and others were on display at Mobile World Congress here this week, adding fuel to the mobile wallet fire.
But mobile payment technologies may be slow to spread, at least in the U.S., as polls show Americans are suspicious of NFC technology for security reasons, analysts note.
Backers of mobile payments, meanwhile, say that NFC technology is more secure than plastic credit cards, and that users would not be held liable for losses through theft or fraud.
The skepticism among Americans is at odds with widespread acceptance of using NFC mobile devices in South Korea and Japan and parts of China to pay for train rides and small retail purchases.
Some e-commerce companies don't see the need for NFC in phones to make purchases. For instance, Starbucks lets customers load dollars on a Starbucks card which is in turn loaded on a phone that interacts with traditional bar code readers to subtract payments.
And at MWC, eBay Mobile and sister company PayPal exhibited ways to make quick non-NFC mobile payments for things like clothes and lunch through a phone tied to a PayPal account.
"We believe you don't need NFC to pay for things by mobile," said Steve Yankovich, vice president of eBay Mobile, in an interview. "You can [pay for things by phone] already today. The 'n' part of NFC is 'near' -- why should I have to be near to pay?"
Yankovich acknowledged that NFC can be useful when passing quickly through a turnstyle to get on a train, but added that a smart card could work just as well.
EBay and PayPal support technologies that can do payments and more. The companies, for example, use imaging technology that's widely prevalent in smartphones to capture a picture of a product, not just the barcode, to find out what it is and where it can be sold.
EBay plans to reach agreements with a wide variety of retailers to use the technologies to help refer customers to the nearest store for a product scanned from a phone, receiving a small fee from the retailer for the service.